Completing tasks in the correct order at the right time can make all the difference in the success of your projects. Creating a workflow for project management can help reduce inefficiencies, improve communication, and even provide better outcomes.
There is a lot of information out there about improving project productivity, meeting deadlines, and cutting costs. But project managers need proven, time-tested solutions, not tips and advice.
That’s where workflow management comes in. It’s about developing processes that project managers can reuse over time that are flexible enough to apply across projects and departments.
In a nutshell, project management workflows are a way to streamline your team’s approach to completing projects. Want to learn how to create a seamless project management workflow? Read on.
The Difference Between Workflow Management and Project Management
Although they are intertwined, workflow management and project management have a few key differences. Project management focuses on one project at a time and how to execute that project on time, within budget. Workflow management is a framework that teams can apply to numerous projects by outlining a proven sequence of steps that a project should be completed in.
While workflow and project management function similarly, it’s essential to know how they differ so that you can create workflows with repeatable steps that can be applied to numerous projects, therefore improving productivity.
To recap: projects are one-time events, whereas workflows are ongoing and repetitive processes to complete projects faster and with better results.
Project management workflow principles
Before creating a project management workflow, you should know some basic principles. Only 61% of project managers report using a defined methodology to complete their projects. But these principles apply across many different kinds of projects, workflows, and industries and can help keep projects focused on objectives.
The three main elements of a workflow are:
Inputs — Resources that are needed to complete tasks. Inputs can include workers, briefs, and other resources.
Transformation — How inputs produce intended outcomes or output. For example, workflows transform materials, human effort, and briefing parameters to produce a specific end result.
Outputs — End results or outcomes produced through the workflow.
In addition to these main elements, there is more information that project management workflows can include for clarity:
Personnel — Team members and the roles they will play throughout the project.
Actions — Tasks that must be completed for each step of the process.
Milestones — Mini-outcomes that result from completing one or more steps.
Status — Where in the process the project stands and whether or not the conditions have been met to move on to the next steps.
Together, these elements form a structure for your project management workflow.
The Benefits of Project Workflow Management
The onset of the pandemic and supply chain issues has only increased project management teams' responsibility. In fact, the average value of project invoices has risen over 17% since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
With tasks and projects increasing, project managers need better ways to plan, track, and execute project activities. Project management workflows provide numerous benefits to organizations, including:
Transparent processes and reporting
Reduced cycle time
Other benefits include more agile company values, a workforce committed to problem-solving, and a company culture focused on positive outcomes.
How to Use Project Management Workflows
Developing project workflows is a waste of time if you don’t know how to use them. To use a project management workflow properly, teams should ensure they:
Follow the plan — Once you’ve created a project workflow, follow the workflow. Address issues and inefficiencies as they arise.
Track everything — In addition to critical metrics, make sure to record significant project events, milestones, and conversations that are relevant to a project.
Anticipate issues — Know that even the most well thought out workflow is bound to run into problems at some point. See challenges as opportunities to learn and improve.
Involve key team members — Talk to team leaders, clients, and stakeholders in every project phase, including the planning stages, to bridge the gap between problems and solutions.
Workflow processes provide project managers with the infrastructure to help organize, plan, and coordinate tasks. Managing the three elements of project management — cost, time, and scope — is streamlined with project management workflows.
Creating a Project Management Workflow
Now that you are ready to create a project management workflow, let's go through each phase of the process step-by-step:
Phase One: Project Planning
The project planning phase of a workflow starts with research based on a client brief or an idea of your own. At this stage, you and your team will discover what will be involved to complete the project and whether or not the objectives are feasible.
Next, it’s time to draft a rough plan. This rough plan should include:
List of resources needed
List of potential risks and prevention
Collaborate with team leaders to find out if any details are missing from your rough plan. Before you finalize your plan, make sure you have the answers to these questions:
What are the deliverables, or objectives, of the project?
What steps need to be completed to execute the project?
Who needs to be involved with each phase of the project?
When does the project need to be completed?
When does each milestone need to be completed?
Remember that the situation might change as the project evolves, so plan accordingly and leave room for flexibility.
Phase Two: Project Workflow Mapping
Now that you and your team have created a plan, it’s time to begin the next phase of project workflow mapping. This is where you will develop a project workflow diagram that reflects how you want the project to be executed.
Before you create your visual map, it can be helpful to mark up a few key project aspects:
Identify the beginning and ending points of the project
Form a detailed and accurate list of the steps required to execute the project
Identify key decision points and resources that will be required to make those decisions
Now you’re ready to map your project workflow.
Start by collecting as much information as possible about the project requirements and execution. This should include quantitative data such as financials and supplies and qualitative data like who is in charge of delegating tasks or how the client wants the end result to be perceived. Involve as many team members and stakeholders as you need to get enough data to form an accurate picture of the project.
Next, draft your project workflow diagram based on all the information that you have collected so far. By now, you should have a near-complete mental image of how the project will play out. This step involves translating that mental image into an easy-to-follow visual aide.
Finally, you’ll need to go back and fine-tune your rough diagram. At this point, it’s a good idea to involve stakeholders and other key team members so that you can ensure the workflow works for everyone involved and you can make adjustments before the project begins.
Phase Three: Workflow Analysis
This phase of creating a project management workflow is all about analyzing your workflow to make sure that the steps are optimized for the best outcomes. Let’s break workflow analysis down into three parts:
Prioritize tasks — Start by prioritizing tasks based on how crucial they are. You can label tasks urgent, important, nice to have, and redundant. Look at the tasks and steps you labeled “redundant” and decide if you can eliminate or consolidate them.
Identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies — Next, Look for potential bottlenecks and other inefficiencies. Work to streamline these issues before the project is implemented.
Look for tasks that can be automated — Lastly, look for opportunities to automate portions of your workflow. By automating tedious or time-consuming tasks, you can increase your team’s productivity and achieve your goals and milestones faster.
While analyzing your workflow diagram, keep in mind the 80/20 rule. This rule, also known as the Pareto principle, suggests that 80% of your outcomes will come from only 20% of the work. Drill into the 20% of areas where results come from to increase positive impacts and eliminate negative outcomes.
Make sure to communicate any changes to stakeholders and other figures involved in the workflow planning and mapping process. Not only does this help ensure the accuracy of your diagram, but it will also confirm whether or not the changes will generate positive effects in all areas of the project’s execution.
Phase Four: Project Launch
Now that you have optimized your project workflow, it’s time to launch the project. There’s more to a project launch than simply “getting started.” Each project should start with a meeting to kick off the project and establish a solid beginning point. There are three key aspects of the project that should be communicated or reestablished at this kickoff meeting:
Reiterate project objectives — Make sure that everyone on the team starts out on the same page by reaffirming the objectives of the project including the end results and any milestones along the way.
Assign roles and responsibilities — Even if work has already been delegated and communicated to the appropriate departments, it can be helpful to communicate to the entire team who plays what roles so that they can troubleshoot and communicate independently.
Establish collaboration policies — This is where you lay down the ground rules for when and how team members should communicate about project tasks. This will most likely be through project management software or other integrations.
Phase Five: Project Control
The final phase of your workflow is all about maintaining project efficiency, solving problems, and measuring the project’s status. This phase will last until your final deliverables are executed, and your project has ended.
Use KPIs to measure the success of your project workflow, such as:
Progress — Measure the progress of the project against the project objectives to discover whether you are on schedule or if some adjustments will need to be made.
Quality of work — Use quality control and quality management practices to ensure that tasks and deliverables are executed with the correct level of quality.
Resource usage — Accurately measure how much your project costs so that you can stay on budget and meet your deadline.
Performance — Keep track of any problems, issues, or inefficiencies that occurred. Record how the problems were solved, any action that needs to be taken to prevent issues from recurring, and how to improve your workflow in the future.
Putting it all together
Project management workflows allow project managers and their teams to execute projects smoothly and efficiently by creating repeatable processes that lead to successful outcomes. Typically, organizations with inefficient processes waste 12% of their resources. In combination with project management software, project management workflows can help streamline operations and reduce project cycle times.
What is a project management workflow?
A project management workflow is a plan that follows a specific sequence of tasks that need to be done to complete a project. Team members can communicate more effectively and execute tasks more efficiently with a clear order of events in a project management workflow. Project management workflows improve outcomes, save time, and improve collaboration.
Why is a project management workflow important?
Project management workflows are important because they create a detailed and cohesive plan with a diagram that includes all the steps, tasks, resources, and personnel required to have a successful outcome. There are fewer issues, better communication, and improved customer satisfaction when everyone is on the same page.
What are the steps in the project management process?
The project management process can be simply described in five steps:
Project planning — Where all the details of a project are organized and planned out.
Project workflow mapping — Creating a visual workflow diagram according to the plan.
Project workflow analysis — Analyzing the workflow map for optimal efficiency.
Project launch — Execution of the project.
Project control — An ongoing process that measures the performance of the project based on the project workflow.